By Jeanne Evans
I met Jim in the fall of ninety-seven. We were both working as salesmen at a mobile home lot in Conway, South Carolina. Jim had already been there a while when I started and was good enough to show me the ropes. It was off-season and the economy was poor that year, so this combination made business real slow. We did occasionally have the odd customer wandering in from time to time, disturbing our naps, but mostly it was pretty dead. Literally days at a time went by when we didn’t see another living soul, other than each other.
If it had not been for the money part, this would have been fine with me as Jim was pretty good company and he and I hit it off right away. Since there wasn’t much trailer-selling going on, this gave us plenty of time to talk. I told him about my wife, Gail and kids and the grandchildren and about the different jobs that I had worked before. Jim never had any children himself, but he told me a bit about his wife and other places he had worked. Mostly it was just complaints about the wife, but what really tied us together was the fact that we both loved to hunt for lost treasure. We both bought all the same treasure magazines that were on the market. The ones that were put out for nuts like us and we both knew all the famous legends of lost gold, sunken ships and lost mines that were just waiting to be found by clever men like us too.
Treasure hunting is like any other hobby a man can get into, once you’re bitten by the bug, it digs deep into your brain and gets stuck there. I have a few metal detectors and have been pretty lucky at finding things. Not Black Beard’s treasure, you understand but still some nice stuff. I’ve unearthed quite a number of old coins, one of them was gold and more than a few pieces of gold jewelry while walking along the Myrtle Beach shores.
Jim, who is quite the romantic character, looking somewhat like a cross between a tall Indiana Jones and Albert Einstein, did his hunting with dowsing rods. He’d had quite a bit of luck with his method too. He liked to follow treasure maps and legends. Sometimes these led to treasure, sometimes just to adventure. He seemed happy either way. To hear him tell it, he’d sure had an interesting life for himself, at one point, working with an archeologist in South America. He boasted of many successful treasure hunts, claiming to have recovered small fortunes. Jim fascinated me with these stories and I enjoyed them so, that I decided to share Jim with my wife, Gail.
We had him over for dinner quite often. Jim was an extremely pleasant and entertaining guy. He never brought his wife with him, though we always included her in the invitation. He would just say she didn’t like mixing with people and didn’t go out much.
Jim’s wife may not have liked to go out, but she obviously didn’t mind using the phone. She would call him at work from the time he walked in door, to the time we locked up for the night. He never said much on his end and the calls would be brief, but he would always seem pensive for a while after he hung up. I believed she never called him at our house, because he never gave her the number. I don’t know that for sure, I never asked.
After a few months, Jim asked if I would like to help him with a dig. He told me he had been working on a site here in South Carolina for some time and would need an extra pair of hands. I was thrilled that he would ask me and more than that, saw it as a welcome opportunity for adventure in my content but uneventful life.
When I asked him to tell me more about this treasure and how he learned of it. He explained that he had been a pilot during the Viet Nam war. He was in his mid twenties then, but had already developed a thirst for treasure hunting. I’m sure he told many stories of his escapades around the camp fires, as he dearly loved to talk. One of the other young soldiers told Jim his own treasure story. We’ll call this young fellow Bob, as I have forgotten what Jim said his name was.
Bob told Jim about a treasure that was supposed to be buried in his hometown of Loris, South Carolina. He also told Jim that he planned to try his hand at finding this prize when he got back home.
The story the young man told was of an older man who had lived by the railroad tracks in his hometown when Bob was a boy. This older man lived in the last house on the left as you drove east out of the little town of Loris onto ninety-five. The old man had lived in this same house since it was built in the early twenties to the day he died, in the mid fifties. At the time of the old man’s death, Bob, the young soldier was only about twelve years old. The two families had been a friendly for years. Bob went along with his father to the funeral and later after the services, back to the house where people had gathered to visit.
As young boys often do, Bob became bored with the chitchat of the adults and started exploring the house. When he came to a room filled with books he decided to look through them, thinking no one would mind. One book in particular held his interest. This one was about local wild life. While he was exploring this book, some papers fell out onto the floor. Naturally Bob, young and curious, picked these up and read them.
One was a letter the other was a map. The letter was not really addressed to anyone in particular. It stated that the old man, who was of some means, had never trusted banks or paper money. It said that in the year 1933 the U.S. government recalled all gold coins. The letter explained he was not going to hand in his gold for paper and his solution to this government request was to bury his gold coins, which amounted to thirty thousand dollars face value. The letter went on to say that the coins were all safely sealed in mason jars and the jars were then placed in a large wooden box. The letter stated that the accompanying map was to show his daughter where the gold was buried in the event that something should happen to him.
The young man reading this letter was familiar with the old man’s family and history. He knew that this man’s only child, a daughter had died herself, a few years back. He knew that the map was of the back yard. The railroad tracks, the three cherry trees, and out buildings were all there on the map. These specific things were used as markers. As Bob studied the map, he felt sure that the gold would be easy to find and he felt he could dig to China if need be, to find it.
Bob raced into the other room where the adults were still talking, all excited about his lucky find. He tried to tell his father about the letter and map, but his father became angry with him and would not let him talk. He told the boy not to meddle in other people’s business and to put everything back where he found them. Bob did go back to the library, but he didn’t put the papers back in the book, instead he put them in his pocket.
He never got the chance to dig up the property before because there was always someone living there. His plan now was to tell the new owners about the map and letter when he got back to the states with the idea that he might share the riches with whoever owned the property.
Bob never made it home from Viet Nam. His name is on the wall. But Jim never forgot Bob, or his story. Jim told me he hadn’t come to South Carolina thirty years later specifically to look for this treasure, but when he found himself here and so close to Loris he decided he might as well give it a shot.
The first thing he did was to take the short trip to Loris. He found the street he was looking for easily enough, but the house was long gone. The foundation of an old house was still there and of course the railroad tracks. Bobs story was about a town that existed thirty years ago, not the one that Jim found himself in on that day. Also, he was working with a story he’d heard some thirty years ago.
Jim checked with the tax office and found that a man had lived there from the time it was built in the twenties, until his death in 1956. He also learned that the house had burned down twelve years later. Another more interesting fact that came to light while Jim was at the tax office, was that there was paper money and some silver coins packed in mason jars found in the walls after the fire. When the firefighters knocked down what was left of the house after the blaze, the jars were discovered. The woman at the tax office told him it was the talk of the town for weeks. Jim could be real charming so I can imagine that he had the lady at the tax office eating out of his hand. This last clue made him pretty sure that the lot in question was the right one.
Jim went back out to look at that property again and again. He studied the lay of this land from every angle. From what he remembered, he was sure that he was in the right yard and he believed Bob had been telling him the truth those many years ago. Or at least the truth as Bob knew and remembered it to be.
It was possible that someone had found the gold years ago, of course, but without the letter or map, why would anyone look? He tried to remember what Bob had said about the markers. He remembered only that the gold was buried somewhere between the house and tracks and some cherry trees. The house and the cherry trees were no longer there. The trees would have helped to find the exact spot, but he didn’t have the map anyway. When he was finally content that the empty lot was in fact the property that Bob talked about, he went back with his dowsing rods. He walked the yard and found two spots that he felt were promising. He said he wanted someone with a metal detector to do the same. We arranged to drive out there together with my metal detectors the next day.
I couldn’t wait to tell my wife about this. She listened very patiently, but didn’t take it too seriously. She said she hoped we’d have a good time with it and the fun itself might be the reward.
When we drove out to Loris with the metal detectors, the same two spots that were showing good with the dowsing rods came up good on both of my metal detectors. With that encouragement we were hooked. My detector has a metal gauge on it that tells what kind of metal is registering from under the ground, and that gauge was reading gold. I couldn’t imagine what thirty thousand dollars in gold coin would convert to today, as some dates might be worth so much more than others, but my thinking was it would have to be more than a million dollars worth of old coins.
We planned our dig out very carefully. We stuck some white tipped sticks in the ground where we were getting good readings, so that we could find them easily when we came back that night. We could not dig in the daytime as there was a factory just past the rail road tracks, on the other side and we were afraid that we might get ourselves into some kind of trouble if someone from the factory should see us digging there. This is where things got a bit tricky.
Jim geared up for full night warfare, donning black clothes, and face. I followed suit, not as sure as he that this would be of great value. We even made a black screen out of opened garbage bags and sticks, to put up around us as we dug. Now Gail was really thinking we were both crazy and fearful that we might end up in jail. I was starting to think she might have a point.
We drove over to the site around ten o’clock that night, parking the car behind a supermarket. We had arranged to warn each other of anyone coming too close to us with the call “hooty-hooty.” My blood was racing through my body with excitement and anticipation. We set up the makeshift screen and started to dig. Periodically one or the other of us would call out “hooty-hooty” and then we would both hit the ground until whoever was approaching had passed. We dug for hours at the fist site. Jim told me a few times that night that he felt as if someone was watching us. I saw no one. We had dug ourselves a pretty deep hole by one o’clock that morning. It must have been at least five by three; by four feet deep and still we found nothing. Scared and tired and covered with mud we decided to call it quits for that night. We loosely filled in the hole, took down our screen and went back to my house.
My wife was waiting up for us and gave us something to eat and some hot coffee. When we told her that we found nothing she said, “Good, you took your chance, you didn’t get shot or arrested, you’re home safe and sound, that should be the end of it.”
“No, no,” I insisted, “the gold must be in the next site. We must have been getting a bad reading from the first site, so the gold has got to be in the next one.” Jim was starting to side with my wife, complaining about it being cold out there and saying we should wait for spring. This was late November, you understand. It was cold, but I was thinking about more than a million dollars in gold coins. “Just one more try,” I begged. Finally Jim gave in and my wife went to bed.
The next night started out about the same as the night before. We again parked behind the supermarket, but on this night I brought along my better metal detector. I went over the spot we had been working on the night before and got a reading of gold again. I wanted to continue working that spot, but Jim was sure we should work the second and leave the first site go. We set up our screen and started digging.
My curiosity or greed got the better of me and while Jim was taking a break behind some trees with a cigarette I decided to see what was making my detector go off. The dirt was loose from the night before so it didn’t take long to find the gold my detector was picking up. It was a lady’s gold wedding set. I could see the diamond sparkling in the moonlight. Normally I would have been delighted with such a find, but in this case the rings were still on the hand that owned them. I fell back away from the hole and crawled on my hands and knees to where Jim was standing behind the tree.
When I told him what I found, he threw down his cigarette and said, “Cover it back up and let’s get out of here. I told you not to mess with that site! I knew someone was watching us last night. Whoever that was must have taken advantage of our digging.”
I heard police sirens off in the distance, and thought for sure they were coming for us. I couldn’t think of any way I could explain why I was in jail for digging up God knows whose property in the middle of the night let alone the body. We covered the body back up as quickly as we could, trying to make the earth look as if it had not been disturbed. Then we picked up all our junk and went home, none the richer but without getting caught. I never told my wife what we found out there. She would have made me call the police and I sure didn’t want to get them involved.
Jim and his wife moved out town a few weeks after that and I never saw him again. I think about him often and wonder if we might have found the treasure if we had persisted. Some questions have haunted me for years. Was there ever any gold there in the first place? Did someone else find it years ago? Why didn’t I ever see anything in the papers about the body we found? I never even saw anything about a woman being missing, though I continued to check the paper for months after that. Surely, someone must have missed her?
I’ve often wondered about how Jim and his wife might be getting along. I often try and picture what she was like too, you know, put a face to the voice so to speak, as we never did get to meet her. Gail has teased me since that time, saying that Jim’s wife must have thought I was a bad influence on him and made him move away, so I couldn’t get him into anymore trouble. My wife could be right, she often is. I can’t say for sure why they moved. I’ll probably never know, but I do know this, his wife must have been pretty pissed about him staying out all night, two nights in a row, as she never called the office after that.
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